French Draft Law Aims To Ban Hijab For Child Minders: Far Right Uses Halal Accusation To Woo Voters


22 Feb 2012

By Juan Cole

The controversy surrounding the Islamic headscarf in France is making headlines again as the French National Assembly studies a draft law that will ban religious symbols in all facilities catering for children, including nannies and childcare assistants looking after children at home.

The draft law was approved by the French Senate with a large majority on Jan. 17 and it was sent to the National Assembly to be ratified before being signed it into law by the president.

"Unless otherwise specified in a contract with the individual employer, a childcare assistant is subject to an obligation of neutrality in religious matters in the course of childcare activity," reads the text of the draft law introduced by Françoise Laborde, a senator from the Radical Party of the Left.

"Parents have the right to want a nanny who is neutral from a religious perspective," the left-wing senator was quoted as saying by ANSAmed news agency.

Critics of the draft law say Laborde is targeting Muslim nannies and childcare assistants.

The senator said that she was "encouraged to act" after a private nursery, Baby Loup, fired an employee who refused to remove her Islamic headscarf.

In Oct. 27, 2011, the appeals court in Versailles upheld the decision to expel the employee as lawful.

"The recent ruling of the Court of Appeal of Versailles in favor of Baby Loup is in the right direction, and I hope that this case is translated into law," Laborde said in December 20011.

Djamila, a childcare assistant, told Rue89 French website it is "absolutely not her role" to speak of religion with kids.

"We look after children of younger three years. Can you you tell me what can they understand at that age?"

An analyst in secularism, Jean Baubérot, wrote in a blog posted on the website Mediapart, that he was outraged by the brandishing of secularism in what he described was a law discriminatory against Muslims.

He accused the ruling Union for Popular Movement and the interior minister Claude Guéant of having torn secularism's principle of "religious freedom" by reviving links between religion and the state while at same time cracking down on individuals' links with religion.

Last week, Guéant, who is a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement, stirred controversy when he told a symposium organized by a right-leaning student group at the National Assembly that "contrary to what the left's relativist ideology says, for us, all civilizations are not of equal value."

He criticized the French Socialist Party for not having voted for a legislation that banned the Muslim face veil.

In March 2004, former French president Jacques Chirac signed into law the controversial bill on secularity and religious symbols in schools. The law banned wearing conspicuous religious symbols in French public, primary and secondary schools.

Although the law did not mention any particular religious symbol by name, it was widely believed to target the Muslim headscarf. It raised protests across many Muslim countries and prompted Islamist militants to threaten attacks against France.

(Written Mustapha Ajbaili)

French far right uses halal accusation to woo voters

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen switched her presidential campaign back to immigration on Sunday, accusing Nicolas Sarkozy of bowing to Muslim pressure over how animals are killed for meat, to try to head off his attempts to poach her supporters.

Le Pen had sought to attract voters by shifting from a traditional emphasis on immigration and French identity to leaving the euro and imposing protectionist barriers, to exploit discontent over the debt crisis in Europe and globalization.

But at a congress of her National Front party in Lille, Le Pen returned to familiar anti-immigration territory, saying she had proof that all meat in Paris was halal – killed by cutting the animal's throat and letting its blood drain out.

"This situation is deception and the government has been fully aware of it for months," Le Pen said. "All the abattoirs of the Paris region have succumbed to the rules of a minority. We have reason to be disgusted."

Le Pen's aides said she would file a legal complaint on the matter. During her closing speech she said the government was bowing down to "Islamic radicals."

The main meat industry association, Interbev, denied the allegation, saying the vast majority of the meat in Paris was not slaughtered under halal practices, but the episode showed Le Pen was trying to win back wavering voters.

Most analysts deem her economic program as not credible and question the strategy of moving from the party's core message. Criticism of her economic policies has provided an opportunity for Sarkozy to woo far-right voters as he did in 2007 when he ran on a strong security and immigration platform.

"Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to renew 2007 by encroaching on our turf," Nicolas Bay, Le Pen's adviser on immigration issues, told Reuters. "That means we have to go on the offensive as we have no intention of letting him do it again."

OPINION POLLS

Le Pen is third in the opinion polls behind Socialist candidate Francois Hollande and Sarkozy. The first round of the presidential election is on April 22.

At one point in January, Le Pen was snapping at the conservative leader's heels, but a BVA poll on Friday showed Sarkozy had an 11 point lead over her in the first round, although it said Hollande would beat the incumbent in the May 6 runoff.

Since announcing his campaign on February 15, Sarkozy has looked further right to win votes and proposed a referendum on battling illegal immigration, something the far right has championed for several years.

In January, his government trumpeted the deportation of a record number of illegal migrants in 2011, and Sarkozy has set himself the goal of cutting legal migration to France to 150,000 people a year, having cut the quota to 180,000 from 200,000.

Le Pen's National Front, founded 40 years ago by her ex-paratrooper father Jean-Marie, is still fuelled by anti-immigrant rhetoric. Among her ideas for protecting welfare are toughening citizenship requirements, shutting borders and forbidding foreigners from access to any social aid.

She said she was the only viable voice of the nation in the face of Sarkozy and Hollande, who she described as the candidates of "globalization, immigration and insecurity."

"People of France, give Nicolas Sarkozy a red card! Get him definitively off the pitch," Le Pen said as 2,000 National Front supporters cheered, brandishing red cards and French flags.

Bay said it was important that issues such as the halal meat accusation were made public to show how Muslim values were influencing policy and endangering secular traditions.

Le Pen says that crimes committed by foreigners had risen as the number of immigrants had risen and that immigration costs France as much as 70 billion euros a year. She has pledged to reduce the number of immigrants to 10,000 a year.

"I think in 2007 (Sarkozy) managed to blindside us using our themes because he was able to appear as a new candidate … and the National Front didn't have the dynamic we have now with Marine Le Pen," Bay said. "But now he has bad track record and we have momentum around Marine so it will be difficult for him."

By John Irish (Reuters)

 

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